Shape-shifting Chicago act The Atlas Moth exorcised some particularly nasty personal demons on 2014’s bleak, The Old Believer album. Although failing to hit the glorious highs of predecessor An Ache for the Distance, it proved a mature, emotionally raw and harrowing chapter in the band’s career. Not content to repeat themselves, The Atlas Moth return in a decidedly more chipper mood, by their despondent standards, serving up an energetic and refreshingly upbeat collection of tunes that widens the scope considerably beyond the psychedelic sludge tag they are frequently saddled with. The genre tag isn’t entirely inaccurate, nor does it do justice to the versatility and genre blurring featured in the band’s evolving song-writing.
Coma Noir finds The Atlas Moth spreading their wings creatively to incorporate a myriad of influences while embracing a hook-laden rock approach and maintaining the core attributes of their unique sound. The atmospheric psych-sludge tropes the band has long established remains prevalent, but Coma Noir, the band’s fourth LP, also stands as their most accessible and adventurous to date. Intricate webs of triple guitar and heavy use of synths sit cohesively aside gritty basslines and thunderous drums, as the signature dual vocal approach screeches and croons in urgent and exotic harmony. The different genre influences mutate in unexpected ways, with elements of doom, stoner, hardcore, trippy psychedelia, noise rock, and hell, even hints of New Wave contorting from the belly of the sludge beast. Yet cohesion isn’t sacrificed, and the versatility of the song-writing stands out, as does the ever inventive guitar work and mostly tasteful and atmospheric synth action. Meanwhile The Atlas Moth trade the gut-wrenching lyrical despair from the last album for a cult-themed and still emotionally resonant narrative.
The raw and divisive strained screech of Stavros Giannopoulos anchors the band in extreme metal waters, but there’s a notable shift into more palatable rock-oriented territory. This may scare away purists, though shouldn’t alienate fans considering the quality of the song-writing, or the fact that The Atlas Moth haven’t severed or sabotaged the roots of their long established sound. After a solid pair of opening tunes, the colossal stoner-sludge riffs, gripping leads, and sledgehammer grooves of “Galactic Brain” proves an irresistible anthem and one of the band’s most ear-friendly tunes. Hot on its heels comes the experimental “The Streets of Bombay,” merging retro sounding keys with psychedelic pastures and a caustic streetwise grit and groove, the disparate elements skillfully forged into a taut and catchy composition. Coma Noir’s experimental shifts continue on the anthemic and jagged hardcore glint of “Smiling Knife,” evoking Swedish legends Refused, and forming part of the album’s excellent mid-section, where thick slabs of meaty, exotic goodness sit between the substantially satisfying content residing on either side. Coma Noir’s deft mix of melody, heft, seething extremity and inventive genre mashing makes for a colorful listening experience.
Only a simple and repetitious lyric (“The Frozen Crown”) and brief, goofy vocal hiccup (“Chloroform”) dampen the closing two songs, yet fail to severely hamper the quality of either, or derail the album’s consistent high quality. The addition of Broken Hope drummer Mike Miczek has tightened things up and he delivers a powerful performance and complex rhythmic foundation to bolster the band’s heavily textured sound. However, the rest of the band fire on all cylinders as well. The Atlas Moth’s dual vocal attack again relies heavily on the tortured screams of Giannopoulos over the rough-edged melodic croons of David Kush, an aspect that could potentially turn off casual listeners or anyone less enamored with the screamier vocal style. Personally it’s not a big deal but hearing more of Kush’s solid clean vocals certainly couldn’t hurt. Sanford Parker’s production is crisp, clear and beefy, with a breathable mix despite the compressed mastering.
The Atlas Moth hit pay-dirt early in their career with the phenomenal An Ache for the Distance representing the gold standard on which their career will more than likely always be gauged against. Refreshingly The Atlas Moth continue expanding and challenging the boundaries of their musical formula without using past glories as a crutch of repetition. Coma Noir is an inventive, addictive and fun extreme metal album with a burly, beer swilling rock soul, loaded with a bounty of killer riffs, memorable songs, and daring experimentation.